The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) has released its Quarterly Report to Congress (April 27, 2016). The Report focuses on how nonbank servicers raise risks for homeowners participating in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). (65) The report states that
Mortgage servicers are the single largest factor in determining whether homeowners applying for, or participating in, TARP’s signature foreclosure prevention program HAMP are given a fair shot, and whether the program runs effectively and efficiently. This is because Treasury has contracted with mortgage servicers to play a predominant role in HAMP, by making the day-to-day decisions related to HAMP that have enormous implications for homeowners seeking relief. Mortgage servicers decide whether homeowners are eligible for HAMP, whether homeowners get a trial run in the program, and whether that trial run should result in the servicer permanently modifying the homeowners’ mortgages. Mortgage servicers decide how the mortgage will be modified, such as whether a homeowner will get a lower interest rate, and if so, what rate. Mortgage servicers decide how much the homeowner will have to pay each month. Mortgage servicers also apply payments they receive, and they make decisions on whether a homeowner should be terminated from the program. Because of this outsized role, all mortgage servicers are required to comply with HAMP rules, and federal laws. Following HAMP rules and federal laws is necessary to protect homeowners from harm.
Non-banks who service mortgages have increased their participation in HAMP, and now play a larger role in HAMP than bank servicers, but that was not always the case.
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HAMP and its related programs have become a lucrative business and reliable source of income for non-bank servicers. Treasury pays mortgage servicers for every homeowner who receives a permanent mortgage modification in HAMP. Nonbank mortgage servicers have received $1.1 billion in Federal TARP dollars from Treasury through the HAMP program.
As non-bank servicers increase their role in HAMP, the risk to homeowners has also increased. Non-bank servicers have less federal regulation than banks that service mortgages. Some of the largest non-bank servicers have already been found to have violated laws in their treatment of homeowners, and have been the subject of enforcement actions by the federal or a state government. Some of the largest non-bank servicers also have been found to have violated HAMP’s rules in their treatment of homeowners. This increased risk to homeowners must be met with increased oversight to ensure that homeowners are treated fairly, and that HAMP and its related programs are effective and efficient. (65, notes removed)
Regulators and other government agencies have been taking a hard look at servicers recently (take a look at this and this). It is important for federal regulators to get their oversight of servicers right because they can and do cause mountains of misery for homeowners when things goes wrong.